Going into last night’s game against the Heat, I was expecting one of the Bulls’ best efforts of the season. I really was. Consider the circumstances: Playoffs on the line, pride at stake after that tough loss in Miami a couple weeks back, and of course the mini-audition for free-agent-to-be Dwyane Wade. Sure, Luol Deng (strained calf) is still out and Joakim Noah (plantar fasciitis) is far from 100 percent, but this team has been bouncing back from injuries all season.
Instead of bouncing, the Bulls hit rock bottom with a sickening thud.
Instead of a spirited, competitive effort, Chicago fans were witnesses to what may have been the Bulls’ worst loss of the season. Yes, worse than their home defeat to the eight-win New Jersey Nets. Yes, worse even than the time they collapsed after building a 35-point lead against the Sacrameto Kings.
This epic fail isn’t just about the numbers, although those are pretty bad. The Bulls shot just 32 percent (including 28 percent in the first half) while the Heat hit nearly 52 percent of their field goals (including over 60 percent during the first 24 minutes). Chicago had just three fast break points and got outscored 52-28 in the paint. Miami got to the rim at will, scoring 18 layups and 4 dunks. The Heat led 63-33 at halftime and 86-49 after three quarters, and their biggest lead was 39. Those 74 points represented the Bulls’ lowest scoring game of the season. The 29-point margin was Miami’s second-largest victory of the season and Chicago’s second-worst.
And, of course, Derrick Rose went out of his way to prove he might actually be overrated by going 5-for-16 and finishing with a game-worst plus-minus score of -33.
Even those ugly stats don’t properly illustrate how listless the Bulls were last night. I’ve seen more fight in preseason games. I’ve seen more fight during a game of checkers. I’ve seen more fight during Nobel Peace Prize ceremonies. I’ve seen more fight during a nap. Guys just didn’t bring it. And that fact didn’t escape coach Vinny Del Negro.
Said Vinny: “No good answer for anything. They just attacked us with O’Neal and Beasley. … We did not have enough fight in us tonight. We beat each other up more in practice than we did the opponent tonight. That is the frustrating part — their effort was better, their energy was better and that is why they beat us up.”
Added Taj Gibson: “They really punched us in the mouth tonight.”
Not even members of the Heat could believe how cakey this particular walk through Chicago was. Jermaine O’Neal — who led the Heat with a game-high 24 points on 9-for-14 shooting — said: “We were a little shocked. We talked about it a little bit on the bench. Especially all the conversation that was kind of here in the papers and stuff like that, their struggles and the importance of the game for them, also. … We were prepared for a fight.”
Too bad the Bulls weren’t prepred to fight.
This loss wasn’t just a blow — perhaps a near-fatal blow? — to Chicago’s playoff hopes. It was the worst-possible audition for Wade and other potential free agents. Because that’s the Bulls’ end goal, right? Luring Wade or someone like Amar’e Stoudemire, Carlos Boozer, Chris Bosh or Joe Johnson to the Windy City this summer. That’s why they traded John Salmons and the right to switch picks in the 2010 NBA draft to the Milwaukee Bucks for about $6 million in extra cap space: To be competitive in the upcoming free agent market, which promises to be one of the best ever.
But the Bulls also need to compete on the court. Those players are going to be offered money by several teams, including their own. Why would any of them give up a winning situation for something that looked so hapless last night? Because Chicago winters are so awesome? I don’t think so.
The Bulls have lost 11 of 13 games — including a 10-game losing streak — and are in ninth place in the East…2 1/2 games behind the eighth place Toronto Raptors. But forget the playoffs. This team needs to start playing like their future depends on competing in every game, because it really kind of does.
More By The Horns:
Check out ESPN’s Daily Dime for the Daily Dime Live Recap (where I tried to joke and eat my way through last night’s ugly loss) and BTH’s supplementary piece “Bulls Routed By Heat.”